He almost falls out of his chair and onto his arse. Cabinets and drawers rattle when he springs to his feet – I’m up, I’m up – chair rolling off somewhere behind him until it just fades away.
He’s at CID. Wait, no. No, he’s at his desk, but this isn’t CID.
What is this?
He scrubs the sleep from his eyes and turns around, face pinched with confusion. “Dad?”
There’s no one there. There’s nothing there. It’s just a dark room with no walls, no doors, no lights but the one lighting his desk. Ray tucks his shirt back into his trousers and grunts, blinking hard to wake himself up. Wake up. The air is stale in here, wherever here is, and he gropes at the knot in his tie to get a good breath.
“What a bloody mess you are.”
Ray turns again, and this time he’s there. In full combat dress, cap tucked under his arm, brass buttons polished until they shine. Everything is in top condition, and he wonders how long mum spent getting the stains out, making sure the cuffs were pressed just right so the chevrons would really show. He feels knee-high again, staring up at those perfect starched stitches with childish blue wonder. Old defensive instincts kick in and he goes straight as a board, heels coming smartly together.
“Sir – ”
“Did I give you permission to speak?”
He swallows his tongue. It’s always been the same drill, ever since he was a boy. Hear the hooter of the Morris Minor, take the steps two at a time, fall in line at the bottom of the stairs; stand at attention, until they’ve all passed inspection – even his sister, although she never had to worry about what would happen if her chores weren’t done by tea.
“At least you remember your manners. Blimey, you reek of piss and beer.”
Ray chances a look at himself. He’s in the same suit he wore yesterday. There’s been a bunch of robberies all over Salford, and he slept at his desk last night. His tie, dress shirt (stained with nicotine and butter from a bacon sarnie – shit, he didn’t see the brown sauce before now), trousers, all wrinkled. He doesn’t need a mirror to guess at the state of the rest of him. He clenches his jaw.
“I’m a copper, sir.”
“You’re a disappointment.”
“Jus’ so ‘appens I’ve been workin’ ‘ard on a case. I’ve got responsibilities.”
“Responsibilities? What would you know about responsibility?”
Ray falls back. His chest feels tight.
His father looks at him with disgust. “You ‘aven’t changed.”
“’ow would you know? It’s been three years. I’m a sergeant now!”
“You’re a bloody disgrace!” They never could talk without shouting. “You’re what you always were. Boozin’, lazy, always looking for shortcuts.”
Ray’s mouth puckers with anger. He shakes his head.
“Going nowhere. Pathetic excuse for a grown man, too bloody drunk to get up out of ‘is own piss. You blew it, Raymond. That day. You remember? You stuffed it all up.”
The light shifts, and now he feels sixteen again. He is sixteen again. Scrappy, skinny little pissweevil, bloodshot eyes and crisp, clean trousers. Standing there like an arsehole at the bottom of the stairs. Mum’s in the doorway, hands twisting her apron. He can’t stop looking at her. Couldn’t stop looking at her then, either, while dad thundered on and he stood there with his shoulders back and his eyes forward. Like a good soldier.
“Are you ever going to grow up and take responsibility for yourself?”
“Said I was sorry, sir. Look, I’ll just interview again—”
“You’ve embarrassed me, Raymond.”
He looks at him with all the defiance a teenager off his tits can muster. “Wouldn’t want tha’, would we dad?”
He clocked him one for that. Not for the first time, and not the last, but he still remembers just how it felt. Teeth rattling in his head, the whole world slowing down and speeding up all at once. Punch drunk, and nauseous. They fought for hours after that, in between bouts of sick.
“I remember.” Couldn’t hardly forget. “But I didn’ blow it. I almost made DI.”
Ray’s stomach lurches. “Aye.”
Almost. Until Tyler showed up. His dad looks about as impressed as he would expect; which is to say he isn’t. Ray stares hard at the floor, fists balled up in frustration.
“How do you think? You broke her heart.”
“I didn’t ‘ave any choice!” he shouts, desperation mixed with anger. “I never ‘ad any choice. All you ever wanted was a soldier; tha’s all I ever heard. I only ever tried to do me best!”
“Well you certainly didn’t try hard enough.”
Ray shakes his head, jaw squared, feet shuffling. “If you’d jus’ give me a chance, I could show you. I could show you tha’ I’m part of somethin’. I’m makin’ a difference, every day. I’m part of a team tha’ goes out, and makes the streets safer for everybody. I’m part of that. Somethin’ you could be proud of!”
He believes that. He really does. If only he’d give him a chance, he’d see that he hasn’t stuffed it all up. Maybe he passes the odd case off, but only the ones that don’t matter anyway. Not the important stuff. The Guv trusts him, anyway. They work together to make things right. That’s something, isn’t it? That’s got to be worth something.
But what he sees on his dad’s face isn’t pride. He wouldn’t even know what that looks like. It isn’t deliberation, either. It’s not even disgust. What he sees on his dad’s face is confusion, and it pulls him up short.
He takes a step forward, and narrows his eyes. Something in Ray goes cold, like he knows what he’s about to say. Like a memory he just can’t hold onto, maybe too drunk to remember, or maybe too long gone.
“Where do you think you are?”